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Watch Secrets of the Ancients online: Episode 1 Viking Voyage

From the eighth to the twelfth centuries the Vikings were the masters of the northern seas, sending their slender ships into the uncharted waters of the North Atlantic.They discovered the Faroe islands, Iceland and far-off Greenland and even found their way to North America. But how did they make such voyages in the days before even the simple magnetic compass? The navigational techniques used by the Vikings remain shrouded in mystery. In Viking Voyage, world-renowned mariner Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and a Norwegian crew attempt a journey across the North Sea in a replica Viking ship. Not only do they navigate without modern charts or compasses - as did their Viking ancestors - but they also put to the test the Viking practice of portaging, by attempting to haul a 9 tonne cargo ship across a narrow strip of land in Shetland from the North Sea to the Atlantic. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, tests these navigational skills and leads a voyage across the North Sea from Norway to Shetland without modern magnetic compass or chart. He tries out the only piece of navigation equipment he thinks they may have had - a sun-compass.This wooden disc with a central hole and notches along the outer edge and a pin fixed in the centre may have acted as a compass; casting a shadow from the sun which would help seafarers head in the right direction. Sir Robin and the rest of the crew are amazed at the accuracy of this simple tool which, along with the aid of some fair winds, brings them safely to their destination. On arrival in Shetland another challenge awaits the team.There is evidence in the sagas that Vikings hauled their smaller warships across narrow stretches of land to avoid lengthy and dangerous sea voyages - a practice known as portaging. But would they have been able to do this with a larger cargo ship like the one the team are using? With the help of some game locals and a bucket of rancid cod liver, the team discover that it really would have been possible to drag a boat literally from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.

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